Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

MNEK's the Man; He's London's Answer to Pharrell Williams -- a 19-Year-Old Whizzkid Who Has Produced Three Number One Singles for Other People. but Now, MNEK Tells David Smyth, He's Ready to Make His Own Hits

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

MNEK's the Man; He's London's Answer to Pharrell Williams -- a 19-Year-Old Whizzkid Who Has Produced Three Number One Singles for Other People. but Now, MNEK Tells David Smyth, He's Ready to Make His Own Hits

Article excerpt

Byline: David Smyth

YOU can tell that MNEK has a one-track mind by just looking at his tattoos. A pair of headphones snake around his right forearm. On the other, there are "Play" and "Record" symbols and the logo for the classic hip-hop label Delicious Vinyl. Around the back, on his neck, you'll find a cassette. It's this dedication to music that earned the Catford native a major label songwriting deal in his mid-teens; by 19 it had also earned him his current status as one of the most in-demand producers in British urban pop.

"I was someone who knew what they wanted to do for so long," he tells me over breakfast near his Shoreditch studio. "I was always fascinated by music, always a student of pop." Now, having already been involved in three number one singles for other people (Little Mix, Duke Dumont and Oliver Heldens) as well as songs by Kylie, The Saturdays and Rudimental, he's launching himself as a dance/soul solo artist with serious hit potential. Think of him as London's Pharrell Williams -- popping up everywhere, writing and producing smashes for other people while keeping the best ones for himself.

This quietly spoken prodigy was born Uzoechi Emenike to Nigerian parents in 1994. His stage name is a simplification of his surname but his band calls him "Emms" and his friends know him as "Uzo". At nine, his Scotland Yard detective father wanted to get him a piano but MNEK bought some computer software called Dance eJay and started making beats instead. He began putting his songs on MySpace and emailing industry movers. By 14, he had a publishing deal with EMI, which he says was some compensation for being hopeless at school.

"There's a stereotype that Nigerian parents love their kids to be academic and be doctors and lawyers," he says. "In reality, my parents knew that I was a vegetable outside of music. They have fears, they know how tough and competitive it is, but they're happy that there are a lot of people backing me."

Those people include the Xenomania production team, famed for writing most of Girls Aloud's material. At 16, he was at their Westerham studios co-writing the 2011 Saturdays hit All Fired Up. He was responsible for the bit that goes: "Keep me on your radar", which became their album title. "I'd sent a Facebook message to [co-founder] Miranda Cooper basically just fangirling: 'Hey girl, I love your stuff, I'm such a big fan, you're geniuses, I'd love to work with you one day'. A year later they invited me down. It was intimidating as I looked up to them, but I learned a lot."

His other mentor is Amir Amor of Rudimental, who he knew before Amor joined the Brit-winning dance crew. "He's one of my biggest inspirations. His attention to detail is something I will always look up to. A lot of dance producers aren't really musical, they don't care much about detail. Rudimental care so much."

Now he works next door to them in the studio Amor co-owns, Major Tom's. Their room is big and shiny with all the best gear. His is small and grubby. "It's very basic -- carpet, shitty leather sofa. I wanted something that was very simple."

The location puts him at ground zero in the current dance-pop scene, while the Rudimental family tree spreads its branches ever further. Their number one album, Home, has already acted as a platform for its featured singers John Newman, Foxes and Ella Eyre to become solo stars. Another wave of contributors -- Becky Hill, Sinead Hartnett and MNEK -- are jostling at the starting gates now. …

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